Friday, August 10, 2012

One To Watch: Edmonton Oilers

You can imagine that after being bad enough to select 1st overall in three consecutive years, the Oilers have a ton of top prospects in the organization. But as I have tried to establish in this series, it's not the "best" prospect I'm spotlighting but rather guys with interesting storylines heading into the coming season. 

So no Nail Yakupov, Oscar Klefbom or Justin Schultz although those are three guys that are obviously going to be front and center for a lot of people. 

Tobias Rieder made my short list. I'm not sold yet that the 5'10 German is NHL material and want to see what he does for a follow up after an 84-point campaign with Kitchener last year. 

I think Kellen Jones is a prospect worth following because the more I see him play the more I think he's an odds beater. Add twin brother Connor to that mix because I firmly believe that 7th round pick was a 2-for-1 selection and both are dynamic, yet diminutive, offensive talents. 

You can add Brandon Davidson, Curtis Hamilton, Kyle Bigos, Jujhar Khaira, Taylor Fedun and about half a dozen Edmonton Oil Kings to the list of guys I'm keen on watching. But to single out one player I chose a local product playing a country away. 


Dillon Simpson (D)

University of North Dakota 
6'2, 192 lbs
Drafted 92nd overall in 2011

I recently read a feature on Kyle Bigos written by Jonathan Willis wherein the point was made that by the time the defenceman is done his college career, he'll be close to a finished product. It's a valid observation that Jonathan makes and reading that it made me think of Dillon Simpson.

Going back to his freshman year, Simpson was the youngest player in Division I hockey and even now, heading into his junior season, Simpson is still only 19 years old. When his college eligibility is over, he'll be just 21 years old with plenty of development time still ahead of him. 

When the Oilers drafted Simpson there were some who rolled their eyes as if to say "well of course they'd take him, he's Craig Simpson's kid". That's true but it would be unfair to say that the son was selected solely because of that, he was picked on his own merit. 

In his single AJHL campaign, when he was name Rookie of the Year, it was fair to say that Simpson's biggest drawback was his skating. Contacts I know well in North Dakota say they saw the same thing during his freshman year but also that there were improvements in that department last season. I know when I see him play now, he has much better mobility than he did in 2009 and he continues to focus on that aspect of his game. 

Simpson has been an in studio guest on TPS twice including most recently just a few weeks ago. I have always been impressed with how mature and well spoken he is but also with his sense of humor. I find him to also be extremely intelligent. I think this is a player who knows where he is, where he eventually wants to be and most importantly, what he needs to do to get there. 

At North Dakota he's part of a defensive unit that includes Derek Forbort (LA), Joe Gleason (CHI), Nick Mattson (CHI) and incoming freshman Jordan Schmaltz -  that's a lot of offensive weapons on the blueline. 

Simpson contributed 10 points in 30 games as a freshman with limited ice time, pretty commendable all things considered. He followed that up with 18 points last year in 42 games on a team that was struck hard by injuries. That provided him more opportunities for sure but it also weakened the roster so 18 points is very respectable. 

It would probably be unfair to expect another 80% jump in points this year but 20-25 would be a reasonable target in my opinion. 

Photo: Andy Devlin
Last summer he was invited to Canada's summer U20 camp but that didn't happen this year. I wonder how much of a motivating factor that will be for him. Does he have the December Hockey Canada camp on his mind or is he resigned to not playing in the 2013 WJC and focused on UND?

Does he play out the full 4 years at UND? I believe he will. He's repeatedly denied any suggestion of leaving college for the Kelowna Rockets and once told me he loves the Sioux so much that "I'd play five years if they'd let me."

Photo: Perry Nelson
Besides, the Oilers can be patient. I don't think there is any concern with Simpson playing out his NCAA eligibility and looking at the UFA options that would soon follow. I think his family ties to the organization are a benefit in that regard and that on some level, he's more of an Oiler than most prospects in the system.   

I don't know if he'll ever be a player that blows the doors off fans and brings them out of the chairs but I think he can be a valuable player. This year I'm looking for a bigger step forward in his development keeping in mind that despite his relatively young age, he'll be in his third year at that level. 

For those reasons, I feel that Dillon Simpson is "One to Watch" in 2012-13 for the Oilers.   

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